The Legal Regime of Widespread Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Adoption: A Vermont Case Study

Article excerpt

Synopsis: Now that PHEVs and electric vehicles are available at retail, an on-the-ground legal analysis is necessary to analyze how these vehicles can be integrated into existing legal regimes for the regulation of electricity. Using Vermont as a case study, we identify the key legal issues which must be resolved for widespread fleet penetration of PHEVs to be achieved. These involve integrated resource planning and transmission cost allocation for PHEVs' anticipated cumulative impact on base load and peak electric demand; statewide charging infrastructure development; and integration with the smart grid. Such a legal analysis should be used to inform economic modeling of PHEV fleet penetration both in Vermont and nationwide.

The policy justification for the significant charging infrastructure and smart grid costs related to PHEVs is the reduction of transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. The relative cleanliness of Vermont's existing energy mix means that PHEVs will reduce greenhouse gases at a higher rate than in more carbon-intensive areas of the United States. However, while PHEVs might play a role in Vermont's low-carbon future, the extent of that role remains in doubt. PHEVs' future role depends in significant part on how this new technology will be integrated into Vermont's pre-existing legal regime for the regulation of electricity. We demonstrate in this article what such an empirical legal analysis should look like, and conclude that continued on-the-ground analysis of the major legal issues confronting the widespread adoption of PHEVs is required.

I. INTRODUCTION: THE NEED FOR EMPIRICAL LEGAL ANALYSIS

The future of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) is now. The PHEV Chevrolet Volt and the electric vehicle (EV) Nissan Leaf became commercially available in late 2010.1 Legal commentators and policymakers have analyzed the potential role PHEVs could play in a low-carbon future.2 However, the recent rollout of the Volt and the Leaf underscores the need to take this legal analysis to the next empirical level. Such an on-the-ground legal analysis requires that the potential widespread adoption of PHEVs be examined with respect to the legal regime of a specific jurisdiction. Stated differently, expansive PHEV fleet penetration will not be possible unless this new technology is fully integrated into pre-existing and adaptable state legal frameworks for the regulation of electricity. To achieve this empirical understanding, we focus on the state of Vermont.

By examining the interplay between PHEV technology and Vermont's existing regime for the regulation of electricity, we identify the key legal issues which must be resolved for the widespread penetration of PHEVs to occur. Most of these legal issues are not state-specific; they will be encountered by every state in some incarnation. Furthermore, the particular manner by which each state incorporates PHEVs into its regulatory framework will help to determine how quickly PHEV technology is adopted nationwide. In this article, we examine a few of the empirical questions which states must consider: 1) whether existing and planned generation infrastructure is sufficient to accommodate the increased electric demand from PHEVs; 2) how federal transmission planning requirements will determine PHEVs' relative contribution to new regional transmission infrastructure costs; 3) whether the costs of local charging station infrastructure will be borne by ratepayers; and 4) what role PHEVs will play in the development and implementation of the smart grid. These and similar questions must be confronted by energy regulators in every state. However, the manner by which these questions will be confronted, and the answers to these questions which state regulators will ultimately provide, cannot be generalized. Rather, these issues must be empirically explored. We articulate in this article what this analysis should look like for the state of Vermont. …

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